FIFA World Cup

Picking Netherlands' All-Time Greatest World Cup XI

Elko BornContributor IJune 14, 2014

Picking Netherlands' All-Time Greatest World Cup XI

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    Although they've never won the World Cup, Netherlands have appeared in three finals: 1974, 1978 and 2010. In 1998, they reached the semi-finals—losing to Brazil after penalties. 

    Needless to say, the teams involved in these impressive runs harboured some great players. From Johan Cruyff to Dennis Bergkamp, the Dutch have left their mark on World Cup history. 

    Here, we forge a team out of the best Dutch players who have appeared at a World Cup. In true total-football fashion, the XI will line-up in a 4-3-3 formation.

Goalkeeper: Edwin van der Sar

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    LIONEL CIRONNEAU/Associated Press

    Having won the Champions League with Ajax and with Manchester United, Edwin van der Sar can look back on a successful club career. 

    But Van der Sar can rightly feel proud about his international career as well; together with players such as Dennis Bergkamp and Patrick Kluivert, he was part of the team that reached the semi-final of the World Cup in 1998.

    During this tournament, Van der Sar helped his country get past Argentina in the quarter-final by provoking Ariel Ortega into giving him a headbutt. 

    Above all, however, Van der Sar was an excellent shot-stopper, providing security at the back while also being able to pass and receive the ball during build-ups. 

Right-Back: Gregory van der Wiel

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    Martin Meissner/Associated Press

    During the World Cup in 2010, right-back Gregory van der Wiel was one of the most exciting young players of the tournament. 

    The Ajax youngster was a constant attacking threat, allowing right-winger Arjen Robben to cut inside by providing width up front. 

    Immediately after the tournament, Van der Wiel was linked with various clubs around Europe. Eventually, he left Ajax for Paris Saint-Germain in 2012. 

    The World Cup of 2010 was a career-defining tournament for Van der Wiel. The youngsters in the current Dutch defence, playing at the World Cup in Brazil, can only hope for a similar performance. 

Centre-Back: Frank de Boer

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    Alex Livesey/Getty Images

    When the Dutch were playing Argentina in the quarter-final of the World Cup in 1998, the score was 1-1 with only a few minutes to go. 

    At the back, centre-back Frank de Boer received the ball. After deciding to go for the long ball instead of a more careful and considered build-up, he hoofed it up front. 

    There, Dennis Bergkamp showcased his technical brilliance by elegantly receiving the ball in mid-air, knocking it through experienced defender Roberto Ayala's legs and scoring one of the most legendary World Cup goals of all times. 

    As the ultimate ball-playing defender, Frank de Boer deserves a spot in Netherlands' all-time greatest XI.

Centre-Back: Jaap Stam

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    Ben Radford/Getty Images

    Frank de Boer's ball-playing ability would be well supplemented by Jaap Stam, who was a powerful and no-nonsense stopper if there ever was one. 

    Stam, who played for clubs such as Manchester United, AC Milan and Ajax, partnered De Boer during the World Cup in 1998, when the Dutch reached the semi-final.

    A towering presence and a respected personality, Stam was the type of defender any team would be happy to incorporate. 

Left-Back: Giovanni van Bronckhorst

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    Eugene Hoshiko/Associated Press

    One of the greatest full-backs to have ever played for Netherlands was the intelligent and forever forward-bombing Giovanni van Bronckhorst.

    Van Bronckhorst, who played for clubs such as Glasgow Rangers, Arsenal and Barcelona during his career, was a key man in the team that reached the final of the World Cup in 2010.

    During that tournament, in the semi-final, Van Bronckhorst wrote history for the Dutch by scoring an absolute screamer against Uruguay. 

    It was a well-deserved goodbye present for Van Bronckhorst, then captain of the Oranje, who retired from football after the tournament. 

Central Midfielder: Johan Neeskens

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    FRA/Associated Press

    After starting out his career as a right-back at Ajax, Johan Neeskens became Johan Cruyff's midfield lieutenant in the Dutch team that took the world by storm with their "Total Football" during the World Cup in 1974.

    Where Cruyff was the team's playmaker, operating in a free role, Neeskens was the team's box-to-box midfielder, assisting Cruyff in the build-up and cleaning up defensively behind him. 

    There was one thing Neeskens was particularly good at: penalty kicks. Somehow always fooling the goalkeeper, the midfielder would shoot them straight through the centre with the force of a cannonball—as he did in the opening minute of the final of the aforementioned tournament.

Central Midfielder: Willem van Hanegem

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    Anonymous/Associated Press

    Because it sometimes looked like he was leaning forward while dribbling, Willem van Hanegem's nickname is "The Crooked One" in Netherlands. 

    Above all, he is deeply respected for his skills as a footballer. As one of the few standout Feyenoord players in a team constituted by Ajax's style of play, Van Hanegem impeccable passing skills have never been forgotten. 

Attacking Midfielder: Johan Cruyff

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    As one of the most famous and iconic footballers the world has ever seen, it's impossible not to include Johan Cruyff in Netherlands' all-time greatest World Cup XI. 

    Cruyff reached the final of the World Cup with Oranje in 1974. The Dutch didn't manage to win, but to this day, their legacy of "Total Football" lives on. 

    Seeing as the Dutch were never really contenders before the 1970s, it's difficult to underestimate the role the legendary No. 14 played in putting his country on the map. 

    In this XI, Cruyff will function as a No. 10 and a playmaker, backed up and relieved of any defensive duties by Van Hanegem and Neeskens.

Right-Winger: Arjen Robben

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    Ermindo Armino/Associated Press

    The Dutch like to play 4-3-3 whenever they can. Consequently, they've produced a fair amount of great wingers. Arjen Robben is, perhaps, the greatest of them all. 

    After starting his career as a more old-school left-winger, in recent years Robben has developed into a right-winger who likes to cut inside to shoot at goal. 

    With Gregory van der Wiel omitted from Louis van Gaal's World Cup squad, Robben is the only current Oranje player in this all-time greatest World Cup XI. 

    In Brazil, Van Gaal will be looking at Robben to make the difference up front. 

Striker: Dennis Bergkamp

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    RICARDO MAZALAN/Associated Press

    As Arsenal fans undoubtedly know, Dennis Bergkamp is one of the most admired footballers to have played for Netherlands. 

    A creator and finisher at the same time, Bergkamp was a key man in the Netherlands team that reached the semi-final during the World Cup in 1998. 

    Bergkamp's greatest World Cup moment came in 1998, when the Dutchman scored one of the most memorable goals of all time in the quarter-final against Argentina. 

Left-Winger: Marc Overmars

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    Sanitago Lyon/Associated Press

    During the World Cup in 1998, Bergkamp usually partnered striker Patrick Kluivert up front. On the left wing, Marc Overmars would often play. 

    Overmars, who played for clubs such as Ajax, Arsenal and Barcelona, was an old-school winger; he liked to beat his man and deliver a cross from the byline. 

    In 2000, Overmars became the most expensive Dutch footballer when Arsenal sold him—together with Emmanuel Petit—to Barcelona for a combined fee of £32 million, per The Independent.

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